COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Beavers back in business with games on the horizon
The new season begins Jan. 2-3, 2021, against Minnesota State in Mankato.
BEMIDJI -- They say good things come to those who wait. Well, the Bemidji State basketball teams have certainly waited.
The Beavers have finally opened the new season with hopes that those good things will follow as promised. Official in-season practices began on Black Friday, so they can start working in that direction.
“It feels good. We have something to look forward to now,” said Griffin Chase, a senior on the men’s team. “This whole fall has been going pretty slow. Things have been changing like crazy. We’ve had guys quarantining, so it’s nice to get back into the groove of actually getting up and down the court and getting ready for games.”
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed back the season two months, as the opening weekend isn’t scheduled until Jan. 2-3. But BSU is thankful to be in the gym and to get rolling on what is sure to be a turbulent year.
“It feels really good being able to start competing with the team,” women’s senior Brooklyn Bachmann said. “We’re still not really doing contact right now, but it’s just being able to get in there for two hours, do more defensive drills, learning the offense. … It seems like it’s finally coming together and we’ve finally got a little schedule down. It feels real nice to get back into it.”
Men’s team revamped for 2021 run
Fresh off their first winning season since 2013-14 at 14-13, the Bemidji State men are hoping for similar success with a number of new faces.
The Beavers return six players who saw the floor last year and just four who averaged over seven minutes per game. Fundamentals never hurt anybody, though, so as BSU aims to build chemistry and find the best route forward, they’re getting back to basics.
“It feels a little bit different this year,” Chase said. “It seems like everything is kind of just dragging on because we’ve just been doing ball handling and shooting drills and defensive rotation stuff. Once we get into the hang of going up and down now, I think everyone will get back into that groove.”
Derek Thompson headlines the returners. The 1,000-point scorer averaged 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last season, while fellow senior Nick Wagner posted a team-best 14.7 points in his first year at Bemidji State. Chase maximized his role a year ago and added 6.6 ppg, while Cody Landwehr chipped in 6.0 ppg.
But a few big names departed the program, as well. Ja Morgan and Logan Bader graduated, Max Bjorklund transferred to Northern Michigan, and Jacob Hoffman left for Denmark to play professionally in his home country.
Bemidji State will counter those losses with a number of newcomers. The Beavers have a trio of transfers in Tyler Behrendt (UW-Milwaukee), Edgars Kaufmanis (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) and Mohamed Kone (North Dakota State College of Science), plus a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen.
“I’m pretty confident,” Chase said of the team. “We have returners coming back who have experience and we’ve been pretty successful with. And then throwing in a couple of new guys and freshmen who really contribute will help out our team a lot.”
With the season’s opening tipoff at Minnesota State still a month away, Chase said the team is focused on the little things to be successful.
“Right now, we’re just taking it a day at a time. Trying to get better, be coachable,” he said. “We’re trying to be the best we can be as a team and individually. And then, when the time comes for games, hopefully we’ve got that groove going and can go from there.”
Women return core as rebuild continues
There’s plenty of familiarity within the Bemidji State women’s basketball locker room.
The team lost just one player to graduation in Erica Gartner, and now she’s back as an assistant coach for a team that returns a nucleus of players that want to win now.
“I have a lot of confidence in us,” Bachmann said. “We’re seeing how quickly the girls are picking up on things and how easily we are reading each other this year. We know exactly what the other player is going to do because this group’s been playing together for such a long time. That’s pretty exciting, knowing that everyone is starting to click.”
Bachmann is one of five members in a senior class that also includes Taylor Bray, Gabby DuBois, Teagan Pompa and Sydney Zerr. Mixed with juniors Trinity Myer and Claire Wolhowe, both returning starters, the Beavers have an experienced core that is poised to compete now.
Myer led the bunch with 13.6 points per game, while Rachael Heittola scored 10.9 off the bench as a true freshman. Bray (9.9 ppg) and Bachmann (9.4 ppg) followed suit for a team that returns 97.2% of its scoring from last year.
And yet BSU wants to remain even keel, as well.
“Obviously we all have big goals in our heads,” Bachmann said. “Everyone wants to win the conference championship, everyone wants to win a lot of games. But at this point, we don’t even know how many games we’ll have or what the situation is going to be.
“Now, with our little goals, we’re just trying to get ready to play. We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to play live and get up and down the court, so right now we’re just trying to focus on getting back into basketball shape, learning our offense, learning defense.”
Bemidji State finished 9-18 last season, tied for their most wins since 2012-13. As the Beavers try to compound the success with even more of a veteran bunch, they’ll have to navigate the complications of COVID-19 and its ever-present influence.
But one thing’s for sure: It’s good to be back to basketball.
“Honestly, it feels kind of normal at this point,” Bachmann said. “Especially when we’re playing, when we get in the gym and we’re doing drills, it feels really normal. You kind of forget about everything going on in the outside world.”